The beautiful and massive bronze statue of Mireuk-bul at Beopjusa Temple with the ancient and original Palsang-jeon Pagoda behind the Four Heavenly Kings’ Gate.
Hello Again Everyone!!
Beopjusa Temple was another one of those temples that I’ve never been able to see because of distance and time. I know what you’re thinking, but you’ve lived in Korea for nearly five years. True. But of those five years I’ve gone to see a lot of other temples. This time, on this summer vacation, it was finally time to see the much famed Beopjusa Temple.
Beopjusa Temple (법주사) means “The Place Where Buddha’s Teachings Reside Temple.” The temple was founded in 553, and it was later rebuilt in 776. It’s situated on Mt. Songnisan. In its heyday, there were over 60 buildings at the temple and some 70 hermitages that surrounded it. At one point in the 1100’s, over 30,000 monks gathered at Beopjusa Temple to pray for the dying national priest, Uicheon. Like most temples in the country at the time, the temple was utterly destroyed by the invading Japanese during the Imjin War of 1592. Fortunately for us, Beopjusa Temple was rebuilt in 1624, and several of the buildings that presently reside at the temple date back to this year such as the five-tier wooden pagoda, Palsang-jeon. In the 1960’s, the temple underwent extensive repairs. And in 1988 the massive bronze statue of Mireuk-bul (The Future Buddha) that stands at 33 metres in height replaced the twenty year old cement statue that resided at the temple.
You’ll approach the temple from a dirt path that straddles a meandering stream. As you walk, you’ll pass by the stately Iljumun Gate. As you continue to walk you’ll pass by a row of stupas raised on a grassy clearing. Finally, you’ll come to a clearing where you’ll see a monument that was dedicated to the monk Byeogam-daesa in 1664. Just past this monument is the Liberation Gate that houses four statues. This gate is extremely unique. I’ve only ever seen it at Magoksa Temple in Gongju, Chungcheongnam-do. There are two offensively postured Vajra Devas that look like they’re ready to attack. To the right is Moonsu-bosal, The Bodhisattva of Wisdom, riding a blue tiger. And to the left is Bohyun-bosal, the Bodhisattva of Power, riding a white elephant. This gate is situated here as a reminder that by passing through the gate, one passes through the human world and into the Buddhist world where they will hopefully seek liberation. As you pass through this gate, the full view of the amazing Beopjupsa Temple reveals itself with the Cheonwangmun Gate first revealing itself in the foreground. Out in front, like two tall standing sentries, are a pair of pine trees. Inside the Cheonwangmun Gate are four tall, but not so menacing, Heavenly Kings. Unfortunately, all the statues in both the Liberation Gate and the Cheonwangmun Gate are protected by chicken-wire that interferes with any pictures that you might want to take of any or all of these statues.
Finally, passing through this third and final gate, you’ll get to see what you’ve probably travelled all this way to see: both the nearly 400 year wooden pagoda, and the 33 metre tall, and 150 ton, bronze statue of Mireuk-bul (The Future Buddha). Straight ahead is the only original five-tier wooden pagoda in all of Korea: Palsang-jeon. It was rebuilt in 1624 after the Japanese burnt down the original one that resided at Beopjusa Temple during the Imjin War. The pagoda is supported by one massive wooden pole that runs up the centre of it. There are four supporting beams as well as posts and beams that keep the pagoda standing. At the top of the pagoda is a beautiful gold finial that adorns the top of the ancient pagoda. Inside Palsang-jeon, as the name indicates, there are eight murals showing the life of Seokgamoni-bul. These murals are known as Palsang-do. Also inside the pagoda are 1,000 white miniature Buddha’s and four larger golden Buddha statues that sit at the four directional corners of the pagoda.
To the left of Palsang-jeon is the massive 33 metre tall bronze statue dedicated to Mireuk-bul (The Future Buddha). This bronze statue is supposedly the largest free-standing Buddha statue in all of Asia, and it truly is remarkable. It replaced a cement statue in 1988. This Mireuk-bul statue is dedicated to the unification of Korea and peace throughout the world. This seems appropriate as the first figure that sat on the altar of the main hall in 776 was dedicated to the unification of the Korean Peninsula under Silla reign. Remarkably, the inside of the bronze statue is hollow, and there are 108 steps that lead the way up to the head of Mireuk-bul. Interestingly, you can go beneath the bronze statue to an underground prayer hall. Underneath, there are numerous gold statues dedicated to the dead as represented by miniature statues of Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife) with a white cloth uniquely drawn over his face.
In the temple courtyard there are a few interesting pieces of stone artwork. The most interesting is directly behind Palsang-jeon pagoda. The Twin Lion Lantern dates back to 720, and it is only one of a handful with such an original design. One of the lions has his mouth wide open, as the two stand on a lotus bud. In front of this lantern is another directly in front of the main hall, Daeungbo-jeon. This lantern is adorned with beautiful devas on the upper portion of the lantern. The main hall, Daeungbo-jeon, was originally built in 553, but like the rest of the temple, it was burnt down during the Imjin War; but just like the Palsang-jeon pagoda, it was rebuilt in 1624. The main hall is a giant double-roofed building, and it’s the third largest historical temple hall in all of Korea. The main altar piece has a massive Birojana-bul (The Buddha of Cosmic Energy) statue in the centre of the triad, and to the right is Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha), and to the left is Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise). The interior is painted with fading decorative designs and a beautifully intricate guardian painting that is equal to the size of the main hall. The exterior of the main hall is designed simply with floral patterns on the second tier of the hall.
There are an assortment of some twenty halls at Beopjusa Temple. Some of the more impressive halls are the Wontongbo-jeon that is dedicated to Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion). The seated gilt wooden statue of Gwanseeum-bosal is beautifully designed. Next to this hall is Josa-gak that is dedicated to some of the more famous monks that resided at the temple through the years. Next to this hall is the unbelievably beautiful and eerie Myeongbu-jeon Hall that is dedicated to Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife). The exterior of the hall is painted with grotesque paintings of those being judged in hell. They are amongst some of the best throughout all of Korea. And the interior of the hall has a beautiful statue depicting Jijang-bosal with 10 large seated Kings of the Underworld on either side of him. Finally, behind the Myeongbu-jeon hall is the Samseong-gak hall dedicated to the three Shaman gods. All three, Chilseong (The Seven Stars), San shin (The Mountain god), and Dokseong (The Recluse) are all beautifully depicted in their murals. And the outside of this hall houses some highly unique paintings of all three of the gods.
Admission to the temple is a rather hefty 4,000 won, even though the temple’s official website still says 3,000 won. Added to this is the 4,000 won parking fee for your car (if you drive).
HOW TO GET THERE: To get to Beopjusa Temple, it’s a bit out of the way. You first have to take a bus to Boeun city. From the Boeun Intercity Bus Terminal, you’ll have to take a direct bus to Mt.Songnisan. This bus runs every 30 to 40 minutes throughout the day. When you arrive at Songnisan Intercity Bus Terminal, you’ll have to walk 20 minutes to the Beopjusa Temple/Mt. Songnisan Ticket Office.
View 법주사 in a larger map
OVERALL RATING: 9.5/10. The reason that Beopjusa Temple doesn’t rate as highly as some others, is much like Buseoksa Temple, it’s a bit of a chore to get to and there isn’t all that much besides the temple to visit. However, there is plenty to see at the temple like the beautiful and historic Palsang-jeon pagoda and Daeungbo-jeon main hall. If that isn’t enough for you there is also the massive 33 metre tall bronze statue of Mireuk-bul. There are also the amazingly illustrated and artistically designed halls for Jijang-bosal, the three Shaman gods, and Gwanseeum-bosal. Finally, there are the uniquely designed and anciently crafted lanterns at the temple. For all these reasons, it’s well worth the effort to get to Beopjusa Temple either for a day trip or a weekend away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life.